Receiving this disc, I had qualms. Great idea, the notion to pay tribute to Ella Fitgerald, an American institution, and Joe Pass, a nonpareil guitarist, in a legendary pairing, but, well, geez, the weak element in such enterprises, when weakness there is, perpetually resides in the guitarist…and we're talking homage to Joe Pass here! I've heard more than my share of guitar/voice duets where the singer overpowered the accompanist, or the six strings were undermiked, or the player was much too timid, but in Alessio Menconi, we have an axehandler who not only is consummately confident and luminous, but possesses ferociously appropriate chops whether mellow-siding or tearing up the fretboard in flighty runs. That is: he matches Adrienne West's lovely voice every step of the way, and I didn't expect that at all.
Perhaps the point at which I became totally sold was the duo's rendition of Love Dance, a Paul Williams-y ballad where West's silky intonations liquefy the listener on the spot as Menconi's chords pass through the arrangement like sheets of golden sun eddying on a balmy afternoon, alternately comping and then harmonizing with the singer. Ah, but then he takes his solo and, good grief, what a combination of the genteel and spectacular!, perfectly contrasting Adrienne's work before laying back into the atmospherics. West's recitation then adopts a keening air, putting the top end on the emotional content: it's more than apparent she really connected with what her partner just set ablaze.
West forsakes the skoobly-op Fitzgerald swung so hip with, concentrating instead on the purity of the famed chanteuse's overwhelmingly dulcet classicalisms, that zone where madrigal met folk met jazz's most tender side. Face it, y'all, this is where the women dominate in music 'cause no male on the face of the Earth could conjure up what Ella wrought with such ease and which West recreates in her own splendid way. It's indeed magical that the two players here can present themselves as fully as they have and make it work, as West is the very picture of decorous formalism while Menconi is oft a tour de force. Nonetheless, the harmony twixt the twain is of a singular quality, and I doubt this sort of thing will be done anywhere near as well any time soon.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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